Understanding Organizational Evolution: Toward a Research Agenda using Generalized Darwinism

Geoffrey Hodgson

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47 Citations (Scopus)
611 Downloads (Pure)


The terms ‘evolution’ and ‘coevolution’ are widely used in organization studies but rarely defined. Often it is unclear whether they refer to single entities or populations. When specific evolutionary processes are suggested, the labelling is often misleading. For example, in the debate over the roles of individual adaptation and competitive selection, the ‘selectionist’ position of Michael Hannan and John Freeman (1989), which emphasizes the role of selection and stress the limits of individual firm adaptability, is often described as ‘Darwinian’ whereas opposing views that emphasise adaptability are described as ‘Lamarckian’. But these labels are not strictly dichotomous. Scholars have shown that core Darwinian principles, resulting from abstract ontological communality rather than analogy, apply to social evolution. This opens up a research agenda using the principles of generalized Darwinism and the replicator-interactor framework to help understand the evolution of organizations. Some illustrations of the conceptual value of this approach are provided, including understanding the entwinement of selection and adaptation, the nature and role of organizational routines, the place of strategic choice and the growth of organizational complexity. The framework of generalized Darwinism also helps to bridge apparently divergent perspectives in the business strategy and organizational ecology literatures.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)973-992
Number of pages20
JournalOrganization Studies
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2013


  • Organizations
  • evolution
  • adaptation
  • selection
  • routines
  • Darwinism
  • Lamarckism


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